Its all in the story

Storytelling is an ancient and honorable act. An essential role to play in the community or tribe. – Russell Banks

It seems that I have some great “Ah ha” moments early in the day (Maybe I will write about why that is at a different time). This morning as I laid in bed at the border between being awake and sleeping, I was listening to a Podcast of a program called, Radio Lab. This program from WNYC, is one of freshest and most authentic programs around. If you haven’t listened to it I encourage you to give it a listen.

Back to the story. The particular broadcast was taken from an address that one of the co-hosts, Robert Krulwich made to the 2008 graduating class at Cal Tech. This podcast titled, Tell me a story, really got my interest.

Images-4Robert in his very funny and provocative comments challenges these new scientist to consider the importance of making science understandable to those who don’t really understand science. He first contrasts two approaches to talking about science. The first is Sir Issac Newton who wrote Principia Mathematica which is truly a dense piece of scientific writing. Newton apparently felt he didn’t want to waste time writing for anyone except serious scientist. This was contrasted to the approach of Galleo who wanted everyone to understand what he discovered. It was so understandable that it got Galleo in a bit of trouble.

Krulwich goes on to talk about the current trend in the public schools in Turkey where creationism has become the defacto standard to explain human existence and teaching about evolution can get a teacher, at a minimum ,fired. This trend was fostered by a very good storyteller who has convinced many that his creationism approach is the only viable explanation for how the human came into being.

This got me to thinking that really great storytelling is so important to creating change. A story well told can bring people out of their seats and into action. This is true if you run a business or are a parent or care about a local community issue. You want people to feel the story you are telling.

A leading thinker in the human potential movement, Michael Murphy in his book “The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution Of Human Nature” makes an very interesting observation. He says that one of the fundamental defining characteristics of being a human is that we are story telling beings. He feels that it must be in our DNA. We are constantly trying to understand the world through stories.

If we can find a story that makes sense of something then we often grab hold of it, even if we haven’t fully considered whether we really believe the story. So it is so important to help people understand with our simple stories. We don’t need to tell the story to get all the details perfect. We are called to tell stories so that people can feel the “music” of what we are expressing. Over time we can fill in the details if needed.

The “Ah ha” for me was that I have often tried to get the details perfect in everything that I do. I will think, “Oh I can’t say that because it isn’t complete or it might be misinterpreted”. What I now feel is important is to just tell the story. Let the music be my guide and the lyrics will follow. If more explanation is required, OK. I will do that later.

What do you think?

Until later,


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2 thoughts on “Its all in the story

  1. Your Ah ha moment resonated with me!
    I recently got some ribbing from an IT Director that I work with – he was complaining that he’s getting carpal tunnel in his thumb from usign the scroll wheel on his Blackberry to read my multi-page emails.

    On the positive side, he also said he always knows exactly why I made the recommendations or decisions I did, because my explanations were always so complete.

    What you got me thinking about, though, is that it doesn’t matter how clear I am if he struggles to get through my explanations! He won’t even get the point!

    You’re right – I could just make my recommendation or “tell my story” and explain later, if anyone needs it.

    I find that point of “enough info” vs “too much” or “too little” rather hard to find!

    Really, the power is in knowing what the story is, isn’t it? What’s really important in any situation? What is my message? And then whittle away all the stuff that might very well be true and might also be relevant – but it’s convoluting the essential message that I’m trying to send.

    Some of my best writing has been when someone else forced me to make it only one page – and it forces me to really THINK about what has to stay and what can go!

    Thanks for sharing!

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